How Jews Invented Pita –

4 fun facts.

Pita bread is perhaps one of the most misunderstood foods. This delicious flatbread – often round and with a pocket in the middle – is popular around the world. The Greeks claim it as their own: after all, the modern name “pita” comes from Greece. Pita is a staple of Israeli cuisine, found in virtually every restaurant, supermarket, falafel shop, and home in the country. It is also popular today in much of the Arab world; at times, Israel has even been accused of “appropriating” this iconic bread. Yet pita is a relatively recent invention and has long been considered a Jewish food, invented and popularized by Jewish cooks.

Here are 4 little-known facts about the surprising Jewish origins of pita, and don’t miss the recipe to try making pita at home.

Jewish biblical origins

Unlike some other types of bread, pita is quick to prepare: made with a simple dough, pita is traditionally baked in a very hot oven and is ready in minutes. The first record of someone baking this type of bread dates back 4,000 years, when he describes how our ancestor Abraham prepared a quick-baked bread called tap for his guests.

After three angels disguised as me appeared to Abraham, Abraham jumped up and ordered his servants to bring water for his guests to wash, then told his entire household to prepare a feast. Before the sumptuous meal was ready, Abraham said to his guests, “I will fetch a piece of bread (tap in Hebrew) so that you can support each other…”. first (Genesis 18:5). Since Abraham will later ask his wife Sarah to bake more time-consuming pastries, it seems the tap that he concocted for his guests in minutes resembled a modern-day pita.

The Torah mentions tap again in the Book of Ruth. Boaz, a wealthy landowner, invites his poor relative Ruth to join in the communal meal he and his entire family share during the busy harvest season. Meals during this season were presumably prepared in a hurry; again, the Torah uses the word tap to designate this type of bread: “At mealtime, Boaz said to him: ‘Come here and take the tapand dip your piece in the chometz (a kind of dip'” (Ruth 2:14). Jewish bread tap was perhaps the first pita.

Greek Jews coined the word pita

Even though the word Pita is generally believed to be of Greek origin, the great food historian Rabbi Gil Marks noted that Greek cooks did not begin to use the term until the Renaissance – and were probably introduced to pita by Sephardic Jews who fled Spain to Greece after 1492.

“When the Sephardim arrived in large numbers in (the Greek city of) Salonika after 1492, the word pita had not yet appeared in the Greek language,” Rabbi Marks observed. The newly transplanted Salonika Jews began calling the loaves thinner and soon made the loaves popular in the eastern Mediterranean. Pita to differentiate them from the thicker breads they used to eat in Spain. The word spread and spread throughout Greece and then Turkey as a name for a round, hastily baked pocket bread. “In Salonica, where from 1519 until the beginning of the 20th century Jews constituted the overwhelming majority of the population, it was natural that the word spread among non-Jews and then throughout Greece.” The term also influenced the Neapolitan word for pizza, and was soon applied to a range of pastries in Greece, not just flat pocket bread. (Quoted in Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks: 2010).

Jews bringing Pita to Israel

Quick-cooked flatbreads have long been popular throughout the Eastern Mediterranean region, but it seems that pita bread as we know it – a round flatbread with an air pocket in the middle – is a more recent invention and was brought to the Land of Israel. by Jewish immigrants in the 1880s.

Food historian Charles Perry notes that the myriad accounts of the Land of Israel in the mid-1800s make no mention of breads being baked with an air pocket in the middle. “I am inclined to agree that this (pocket bread) is relatively recent. I can’t find any reference to pocket bread in medieval Arabic cookbooks…. People like to think that the popular foods of a region are of great antiquity. But one thing the history of food teaches is that cooking, like most cultural phenomena, is subject to fashion,” he notes (quoted in Jews and their eating habits, studies on the contemporary Jewish community Flight. 18 by Anat Hellman. Oxford University Press: 2015).

In the modern state of Israel, pita has quickly become a ubiquitous national food, served at virtually every meal, eaten as an accompaniment to Israeli favorites such as hummus, falafel, and Israeli salad. At the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, pita was introduced to an unknown audience as “Israeli bread”.

Gyros sandwiches are a Jewish invention

As the Israeli pita grew in popularity, other cuisines adapted their own flatbreads to make them more pita-like. A notable change was made to the Greek and Turkish pita, which is now widely recognized as a wrapper for the meat in popular Greek and Turkish flat gyros, somewhat similar to Israeli shawarma. Rather than being an ancient invention, Greek and Turkish cooks were influenced by Jewish cooks to create this dish just a few decades ago.

Grilled wrap souvlaki meat in a pocketless flatbread has long been a classic Greek and Turkish dish. But “gyroscopes are an American innovation,” notes Rabbi Gill Marks. “Before the 1970s, Greek and Turkish restaurants in America only served the pocketless type of pita. Yet since then, most Americans have come to associate pita with pocket bread. The Jews were responsible for this shift in meaning,” observes Rabbi Marks.

Pita continues to grow in popularity. In the United States, consumers bought more 131 million pita dollars in 2021. In Israel, the popular Jerusalem Angel Bakery bakes at least 10,000 pita breads every day.

Bake Pita at Home – Get the recipe and make your own fresh pita bread.

About Norma Wade

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